The waiting is over. They say cricket is a slow game, but when the members of Middlesbrough Cricket Club formed a football branch in the town's Albert Hotel 128 years ago they could never have imagined they would wait so long for a result.
Yesterday, Juninho, Gaizka Mendieta and Danny Mills finally achieved what eluded George Camsell, Wilf Mannion, Brian Clough, Graeme Souness and Fabrizio Ravanelli. They helped Middlesbrough win a major trophy. The Anglo-Scottish Cup (1976) and a rusting Amateur Cup (1895 & 1898) can budge up in the trophy cabinet.
It was a triumph for Joseph-Desiré Job and Boudewijn Zenden, who scored Middlesbrough's early goals; for Mark Schwarzer, the Australian goalkeeper whose shocking error allowed Kevin Davies to haul Bolton Wanderers back into the game, but thereafter protected Middlesbrough's lead; for Steve McClaren, the first Englishman to win one of this country's leading trophies since Brian Little's Aston Villa lifted this one several sponsors ago, in 1996; and, most of all, for Steve Gibson.
Unlike Peter Ridsdale, to pluck a counterpart from the ether, Gibson put his own money into the club he loves. Unlike Ridsdale, he preferred to stay in the shadows, rather than advertise his wonderfulness. Unlike Ridsdale he has, after devoting nearly half his 45 years to running the club, and ploughed many millions into it, delivered.
Boro deserved victory though Bolton, who fully contributed to an enthralling first half, might have forced extra-time had Ugo Ehiogu been punished for using his hand to block Stelio Giannakopoulos' 89th-minute shot. Instead the critical drama was in the opening, not closing minutes.
Supporters of both sides were still finding their voice after being assailed by an hour of ear-splitting rock music, an inane and increasing practice which prevents fans enjoying either quiet conversation or communal singing, when Boro took the lead. Bolton had drifted forward when Mendieta launched a swift counter-attack with a cross-field pass to Zenden. The Dutchman drove into the area and unleashed a cross-shot which Job turned in at the far post.
Five minutes later, during which time Schwarzer had made an agile save to deny Youri Djorkaeff, Mendieta rolled a pass into Job who was tripped by the nervous Emerson Thome as he rolled the Brazilian. Zenden's standing foot slipped as he hit the penalty but, unlike David Beckham in Istanbul, he managed to keep the ball down to score.
Boro were dominant but after 20 minutes Davies, short of options, shot tamely from the angle of the 18-yard box. Schwarzer, unaccountably, let the ball squeeze between him and the near post. Game on.
The rest of the half was gripping, with both sides threatening further goals. Bolton's star trio, Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo, took responsibility, drawing good supporting performances from the likes of Nicky Hunt and Kevin Nolan. They penned Boro in, but the latter always looked dangerous on the break with the width and wit of Mendieta, Zenden and Juninho too good for Bolton's defence. There was a spikiness about the contest too with Per Frandsen and George Boateng squaring up. Sensible refereeing kept the game simmering without boiling over.
Schwarzer, shaking off his error, touched Frandsen's 28th-minute shot on to the post then recovered to gather Djorkaeff's follow-up. Djorkaeff had another shot deflected wide after Davies laid off. From the subsequent corner, he was again denied by Schwarzer. In response, Mendieta and Job released Boateng, he delayed and, when the ball came back to Mendieta, the Spaniard shot over the bar.
The second period opened in similar vein, Mendieta chipping over on the break, but as the half wore on it became clear that Boro's supporting cast, the likes of Doriva, a neat Brazilian out of the Dunga mould, and the solid French defender Franck Queudrue, were of a higher grade than Bolton's. Middlesbrough functioned as a team while Bolton became over-reliant on their stars.
Allardyce threw on a trio of strikers but Gareth Southgate and Ehiogu held firm. Mendieta, after one of several dazzling runs by the effervescent Juninho, should have won it. Then Bolton hoisted another ball into the box. It broke to Giannakopoulos whose shot struck Ehiogu's arm. Mike Riley waved play on and Bolton's chance had gone.
Perhaps, if the final was still at Wembley, a penalty would have been given. Since Sunderland's 1973 FA Cup victory over Leeds United, north-east teams had suffered 13 successive Wembley defeats in FA Cup, Football League Cup and promotion play-off finals. This was the first chance, since these fixtures moved from north London to south Wales, to see if the Wembley hoodoo had made the same journey. Evidently not.
Middlesbrough now move on into Europe but for Bolton the wait continues. The boy who cheered Nat Lofthouse's goal in 1958, and imagined he would regularly follow the Trotters to glory, is nearing retirement now, more able to remember the names of Roy Hartle, Tommy Banks and Nat Lofthouse as those of his grandchildren. Allardyce looked to have built a new team of heroes, one for those grandchildren who have resisted the siren call of Manchester United to cherish into middle age and beyond. Even Djorkaeff and Okocha could not, however, deny Middlesbrough a belated triumph.
As Boro's players celebrated, Gibson stood quietly in the shadows. Then a cameraman picked him out and his face appeared on the big screen. Boro fans roared their approval. The most popular millionaire on Teesside let slip an embarrassed smile.
Bolton Wanderers 1
Job 2, Zenden pen 7
Half-time: 1-2 Att: 72,634
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt (Giannakopoulos, 87), Thome, N'Gotty, Charlton; Campo; Nolan (Moreno, 77), Frandsen (Pedersen, 63), Okocha, Djorkaeff; Davies. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Barness.
Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Mills, Ehiogu, Southgate, Queudrue; Mendieta, Doriva, Boateng, Zenden; Juninho; Job (Ricketts, 65).
Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Riggott, Maccarone, Downing.
Referee: M Riley (W Yorks).
Bookings: Bolton: Frandsen, Campo, Hunt. Middlesbrough: Boateng.
Man of the match: Juninho.Reuse content